Why did the Prophets work as Shepherds?

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February 9, 2016 by Verse By Verse Quran Study Circle

sheep

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The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was born an orphan and his deceased father had not left much wealth for him. Being aware of his circumstances, he never shied away from responsibilities. We have learned in a previous post that at the age of four, he was leading a herd of sheep. He continued to do so after coming to Makkah. He would get a meager salary but he was content with his livelihood. He was earning halal money with his own hands and did not have to beg to people.

Remember that the prophets ‘alayhim salaam were shepherds. In order to prepare them for a greater task, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala chose this work of line for all the prophets. Let us understand this in a little more detail:

Leadership Skills: All prophets ‘alayhim salaam were tasked to perform leadership duties. They were sent with a message that they were to spread among the people. It would not have been possible to preach if they lacked leadership skills. Today, people spend hundreds of dollars to take leadership courses.

[Every Prophet was a Shepherd]

Sense of Responsibility: If you are a responsible person you will not look for ways to avoid responsibility. Many mothers have to wake up early only because their little children do not let them sleep. If at their parents’ place they slept till mid-day they can no longer carry on the habit after having children. The children need food and want their needs met. If you are a responsible mother and treasure the gift that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given you, you will get out of the bed and look after your children’s needs while they are dependent on you.

Similarly, the people who have pets, their cats would not allow them to sleep till late. No matter how tired you are or how much you want to sleep, they would come and get you out of the bed. If you truly care for the animals, you will get out and feed them.

And the same is true with raising a herd of sheep! You have to sacrifice your rest and your wants in order to help them grow. If you keep sleeping either your sheep will die or run away. And if cattle are not well-fed, how will one get their milk and meat?

Observation Skills: Not only do you have to wake up early but when you do take the sheep out you have to keep an eye on them. A shepherd must keep a count of his sheep and not let any one of them leave his sight. He is not just their master but also caretaker. Should a sheep fall sick or get hurt, then the shepherd should have the skills to provide first aid.

[8 Leadership Lessons from a Shepherd’s Life]

Resourcefulness: The shepherd should know how to meet the needs of his sheep. He should know the sites which are safe and grassy. Therefore, we see that whenever someone brought a problem to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam he knew how to solve it. He knew the right people, the right places and the right way to attend to someone’s problem.

Management: A shepherd must know the best time to leave for grazing, the plains to visit and the skill to keep the herd in order. In the Prophet’s life we see discipline. He knew how to treat people having diverse personalities and coming from different background. He followed a proper schedule every day and gave everyone their due right. He had multiple wives and companions radhiAllahu ‘anhum and all of them felt the most special. This wouldn’t have been possible if he did not know how to manage. Some people only know how to be bossy. They are not leaders because they only wish to control others. They have no regard for others’ personality differences or feelings and ambitions.

Patience: When human beings do not understand the instructions well, what can one expect from the animals? Raising children or animals requires much patience. Therefore a reputed sage says: Raise yourself before you raise children. If we only know how to scream, punish or harm others in order to get our work done then certainly we lack the right skills.

Being a shepherd requires a lot of patience. You have to wait for all the sheep to gather so that you move forward to your next spot. We can study the Prophet’s Seerah and learn how much patience he had with his family, his companions, his opponents and the Bedouins.

[5 Powerful Ways Leaders Practice Patience]

Why sheep? One might wonder why sheep and not the camels since the Arabs raised camels. The reason is simple! Camel is an arrogant and tough animal. You starve it for days and it will not complain. But sheep are small and weak. They require more of your care and attention. Similarly, human beings are of all types. The weak ones require more care and attention; you cannot treat them with harshness.

It was this training that made the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam a humble and patient person. He understood the human psyche and personality differences. He would meet people as they were and never criticized them for being different. He accepted natural discourse. Yet, how often do we expect others to modify their behavior or likes and dislikes according to our preferences? It is for this reason that we have failed relationships whereas the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was the most successful in both his personal and official relationships.

From this we also learn that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not consider any job beyond his dignity; what mattered to him was earning his own livelihood through permissible means without having to beg people. Many people would not leave their high-paying haram jobs fearing a low financial standing. For the fleeting pleasures of this world we willing embrace haram and not work for halal. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala guide us, aameen.

[False Means and Permissible Method of Earning]

[Adapted from the talks of Dr. Farhat Hashmi on the book: Tajjaliyat e Nabuwat by Maulana Safi ur Rahman Mubarakpuri. Some material has also been taken from Imam Ibn Katheer’s book: Al-Seerah Al-Nabawiya]

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